RICKIE FOWLER made strides – in some very fancy new golf “boots” – towards establishing a “big four” with an impressive win on the weekend in Abu Dhabi and has leapt to No.4 in the world rankings.
He beat a field that included world No.1 Jordan Spieth and No.3 Rory McIlroy and will have the opportunity to further his claims at the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open on the US PGA Tour this week, where No.2 Jason Day is the defending champion.
Fowler’s one stroke Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship victory saw him overtake Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson in the rankings.
The 27 year old American has now won four wins in the past nine months, including The Players, the Scottish Open and the FedEx Cup playoff event the Deutsche Bank Championship.
There is of course one big omission from the resume, and one Fowler readily concedes.
“I feel like to be in the same conversation [as the big three] I need to get a major and get that on the resume to at least have some sort of credentials to be there,” Fowler said.
Whilst Day is a favourite at Torrey Pines Golf Club in San Diego this week (in an event that will also see the professional debut of boom Aussie youngster Ryan Ruffels) Jordan Spieth, who putted much like a mere mortal to finish T5 in Abu Dhabi, will be playing the Singapore Open on the Asian/Japan Tour.
Rory McIlroy was showing ominous signs in his first outing for the year, finishing just two behind the winner and tied with Stenson.
The 26 year old is not competing this week on the European Tour, in its second week of the “desert swing” at the Qatar Masters, and is already plotting on accomplishing his career “grand slam” at Augusta National in April.
“I feel my game is in good shape going into this run of golf that I’ve got coming up,” he said. “It’s a busy schedule that I’ve got going into the Masters.
“I would have liked to have started the season just that little bit better with a win.
“I feel with my performance here, I can take plenty away from it and build on it and build gradually up towards the first Major of the season at Augusta.”
McIlroy will be doing some rehab on a knee issue he has and expects to be 100 percent for the Dubai Desert Classic next week.
Jason Dufner in from the cold in California
Jason Dufner finally found a victory after more than two years in the winless wilderness, beating David Lingmerth in a playoff for the Career Builders Challenge at La Quinta in California.
Shockingly, the usually fanatically stoic Dufner even said the word “Wow” after almost holing a chip from rocks in the hazard beside the island green on the 17th. Wow.
“Yeah, that’s another thing I worked a lot on,” he said after his first win since the US PGA Championship in August 2013. “Trying to be confident again. Feeling like I’m a good player. When you play bad out here and you don’t have the results you want and you don’t meet expectations whether yours or other people’s, you get down. It’s tough out here.
“So I wanted to really dedicate myself to believing that I’m a great player again. And I don’t know what that means. Does that mean it’s top-50 in the world, top-5 in the world, best player in the world? I don’t know. But I’m dedicated to it, I want to believe in it, and be confident again.
Phil Mickelson also showed good signs after his first game for the year and was impressed with the results of his swing changes.
“This is a great week for me,” said Mickelson, who tied third. “Just because it’s not a win it doesn’t mean it wasn’t what I wanted. I’m playing the way I want. It might not have been the result, but I’m playing the way I wanted. I hit a lot of good shots, it felt totally different off the tee, my iron play was good, it wasn’t great. It was the touch — but the touch is coming back.
“I’m starting to manoeuvre the ball the way I want to. My divot entry point is the way I want it. It’s actually straight, a straight line. It had been toe deep for so long because I came in so steep the toe was entering first. It was you know solid and the divots were terrible. The divots this week were great.”
Matt Jones at 34th was the best finishing Aussie.